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Digitally Instrumentalised Cultural Landscapes as Art

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sally Jane Norman


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Over the past decade, art works built by interweaving physical, social and data spaces have engendered cultural landscapes of a new kind, animated by senses of identity and community which are both endemic to new technologies, and bound to specific physical sites. In contrast to early proclaimers of abstract CAD (Computer-Aided Design) cyberscapes, Knowbotic Research’s mid-nineties CAN projects (acronym for Computer-Aided Nature) seek to highlight a fertile oscillation between material and data spaces. “Dialogue With the Knowbotic South” (DWKS, 1995), which offers an interactive computer-generated audiovisual model of Antarctica as an evolving public knowledge space, posits that this befits our knowledge of Antarctica, which generally consists of information derived from the complex instruments used to explore hostile environments (e.g. meteorological, geological, and oceanographic probes). DWKS and subsequent Knowbotics CAN projects positioned at the boundaries of the so-called natural and artificial realms propose hybrid physical and information landscapes, resonant with the epistemological complexities that characterise today’s technoculture. “Relational architecture” is how Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer dubs one area of his practice, which uses tracking and projection systems to superimpose images and sounds of one architectural site onto another, broiling their respective historical and geographical references to produce a virtual hybrid landscape. In “Displaced Emperors” (1997), wireless 3D sensors tracking the gestures of participants pointing at the façade of Emperor Maximilian’s Habsburg Castle in Linz, Austria, control a giant animated hand projection that caresses the building. The illuminated hand opens interactive projected windows in the façade, revealing musically orchestrated rooms in Chapultepec Castle, Maximilian’s Mexico City residence. In addition to unveiling these geographically distant but historically connected spaces, visitors can press the “Moctezuma button” to trigger what Lozano-Hemmer calls a temporary post-colonial override: a huge image of Moctezuma’s Aztec head-dress kept at Vienna’s Ethnological Museum, followed by a parade of Habsburg jewels. This and other “relational architecture” works engage their publics in provocative re-readings of place, layered with multiple cultural interpretations and interrogations. Swedish artist Ulrika Wachtmeister’s “Transitions” project(2004) proposes an alternative conception of a place of mourning, purportedly better tuned to today’s era of mobility and nomadism than are graves and cemeteries. The work revolves around a field of pole-mounted, solar-powered lights in an artificially created zone located alongside the road and railway linking Sweden’s Malmo island to the Danish Copenhagen mainland. By visiting websites built as virtual repositories for their grieved loved ones, internauts trigger the physical lights which are connected to these websites, creating an uncanny glimmer of pooled recollections that can be experienced by people in transit. “Transitions” investigates cultural implications and constraints of our new media/ technology environment at large, including its determinant influence on our building of new kinds of space and time sanctuaries in the "connected" world. I propose to discuss and illustrate these examples of artistic exploration and recreation of cultural landscapes, to see how they use digital tools to foster shareable new readings of public places, and thereby to convey novel senses of identity and community.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Norman SJ

Editor(s): Newcastle University, Forum UNESCO, World Heritage, World Archaeological Congress

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Cultural Landscapes in the 21st Century. Forum UNESCO - University and Heritage 10th International Seminar. An Inter-Congress of the World Archaeological Congress

Year of Conference: 2005